Drag queen story events for kids are dropped by Rochdale Council after protests elsewhere

Council bosses have not given a specific reason for indefinitely proposing the events - but story sessions elsewhere saw protesters ambush the library.

Rochdale Council has been accused of ‘pandering to bullies’ following its decision to drop a drag queen book reading event at local libraries.

Performed by children’s author Aida H Dee ‘The Storytime Drag Queen’, the event was due to take place at three libraries across the borough next week, with readings in Rochdale, Heywood and Middleton.

It formed part of the Drag Queen Story Hour UK tour, offering ‘inclusive storytelling for all ages’, with the aim of promoting diversity and acceptance from a young age.

Council bosses have not given a specific reason for indefinitely proposing the event, but it comes after sessions up and down the country saw angry protests from people claiming they were harmful to children.

Police were called after protesters stormed a library in Reading last month and there have also been attempts to disrupt events in Leeds, Portsmouth and Bristol.

Aida H Dee, of Drag Queen Story Hour. Image via Rochdale council

But Councillor Andy Kelly, leader of Rochdale’s Lib Dem group, says bosses should not have been cowed by such behaviour.

“This is a really disappointing decision from the council,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“Any threats of violence is just bullying and needs dealing with for what it is. Cancelling panders to those bullies. 

“I have had dozens of messages about this today- all from mothers wanting to bring their young children. I’m minded to remind people that Rochdale is the borough that brought us Norman Evans- arguably the original story telling drag queen – and we should be proud of diversity and stick up for difference in our borough.”

Coun Kelly said he hoped to see the events rescheduled soon.

“And if you don’t like drag queens telling stories- don’t buy a ticket,” he said. “And don’t bother buying a ticket for panto at Christmas either.”

Coun Andy Kelly Credit: Rochdale Council website

A statement from Drag Queen Story Hour UK said the council had ‘unilaterally shut down’ the event without any discussion, adding that the ‘one-sided decision’ was given to them less than 30 minutes prior to publication.

“The action is not only a breach of our contract, but a breach of the trust with the whole LGBTQ+ community and across the UK,” it adds.

While Drag Queen Story Hour says it is ‘sympathetic’ to the council’s concerns of potential protesters, it insists there are ‘many more supporters than opposing voices’.

“All other councils and library groups have maintained this event through the UK with two-way communication and planning,” the statement adds. “If these libraries across the country can host Drag Queen Story Hour, so can Rochdale.”

The statement also urges the council to remember its commitment to ‘promoting equality by knowing our diverse community and understanding its changing needs’.

It adds that the decision will cause ‘lasting damage’ to an ‘already marginalised community’ – not least because it was taken by people in authority.

On a more conciliatory note, Drag Queen Story Hour says it now hopes to have an ‘open discussion’ with the council on how the authority can improve its communication with event organisers.

The council insists it is a ‘strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, pointing to the fourth Rochdale in Rainbows event which took place across the borough in late June and early July.

A spokesperson said: “We recognise that it’s important that we have a continuous programme of activity to celebrate equality and inclusion and respect for everyone. As a council and a borough there is a strong commitment to support inclusivity and celebrate diversity.

 “We’ve held a number of drag queen story sessions in our libraries through the Rochdale in Rainbows programme and these have included stories which encourage the understanding of differences between people and diversity. The feedback from families has been really positive.

 “It is unfortunate that we’ve had to postpone the drag queen story events scheduled for 16 August. We have been in contact with the performer and will be discussing alternative options with them.”